Friday, January 17, 2020

Can Lev Parnas Be Trusted?

Lev Parnas, an indicted Republican fundraiser, has dropped a bombshell into the impeachment hearing in the form of mountains of notes, text messages, voicemails, pictures, and other documents relating to Rudy Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy in Ukraine. Parnas is naming names from President Trump on down as he spills the beans on what happened behind the scenes as the Trump Adminstration allegedly pushed President Zelensky to announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. The big question is whether Parnas can be trusted.

The short answer is no. Parnas lacks credibility and has plenty of incentive to bend the truth in order to ingratiate himself to Congress and bargain his way out his own legal troubles. The longer answer is that what Parnas lacks in credibility, he makes up for in documentation.

For those who haven’t been following the emerging situation, Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested last October at Dulles International Airport just prior to leaving the country on one-way tickets. The pair were charged with attempting to funnel money from foreign governments to American elected officials. Both men were associates of Rudy Giuliani and were involved in Giuliani’s Ukrainian fishing expeditions for dirt on Joe Biden. Though both men were US citizens, Parnas was born in Ukraine and Fruman was born in Belorus, both former republics of the Soviet Union.

In early November, Parnas agreed to cooperate with the House impeachment probe. It was only this week, however, that a trove of documents from Parnas was made public by House investigators after receiving judicial approval. The document releases can be viewed here.  

Since Parnas himself is not a credible character, the documents that he has presented are more important than his own testimony, which so far has not been under oath. Some of the documents are more credible than others. For example, Parnas’ handwritten notes are questionable but a letter from Giuliani to Zelensky is more compelling.

The Giuliani letter is important in that it undercuts one of President Trump’s strongest defenses, namely that he was acting in the national interest. In the letter, Giuliani specifically claims that he represents Trump “as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.”

Also compelling are the series of text messages between Parnas and Robert Hyde, another Republican donor who is currently running for Congress in Connecticut. The pair’s now-famous message exchange indicated that US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was under their surveillance to the extent that they knew not only her location but whether her phone and computer were on. If the messages are genuine, it is very difficult to explain why they were keeping tabs on Yovanovitch for any reason that is not either creepy or sinister. If the messages are not genuine, it is difficult to explain why they were constructed to include Hyde, an unknown.

Interesting but not as damaging is Parnas’ undated note on a Ritz-Carlton-Vienna pad. One item on the to-do list reads, “Get Zalensky [sic] to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.” The note supports previous testimony that Trump’s goal in withholding the Ukrainian aid money was to force the announcement, but without context such as a date, it is impossible to know if it is genuine or was created later.

While there may be some doubt about the note’s legitimacy, there is no doubt that Parnas himself is the real deal. Among the releases are text messages between Parnas and Giuliani, including one in which Giuliani told Parnas that he needed to get then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prosecutor General Lutsenko “on the record about the ambassador and Biden” and asked, “Can you make it happen?”

Parnas also appears in photographs with a veritable Who’s Who of Republican and Trump Administration officials including Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and numerous poses with President Trump. Most of these officials deny knowing Parnas and say that they don’t recall taking the photos.

The piece de resistance, however, is a copy of an email from Jay Sekulow in which the president’s personal attorney writes to John Dowd, another lawyer who was also once an attorney for Trump, on the subject of “Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.” Sekulow told Dowd, “I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman [sic].” The obvious question here is why Donald Trump is involved at all in the legal representation of two low-level flunkies.

Lev Parnas is a sketchy character and his claims should be questioned and verified, but that does not mean that they are irrelevant. In the end, Parnas is one more link in the chain of evidence against Donald Trump along with the OMB and Pentagon emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that pointed to Trump as the source of the aid freeze, and the new GAO assessment that the president violated the law in withholding the aid. Parnas’ claims and evidence must be viewed within the context of other evidence and testimony to help complete the picture of what happened.

The revelations of the past few weeks both underscore the mistake Democrats made in rushing the impeachment vote and the fortunate decision of Speaker Pelosi in delaying the referral of the articles to the Senate. Without the delay, the new information would still be coming out but the Senate might already have dismissed the case. On the other hand, if Democrats had taken their time, they could have transmitted a more complete case to the Senate, where many Republicans seem determined to ignore any new information that has come out since December 18.

As the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate, the one thing that seems is clear is that the more information that comes out, the worse things look for Donald Trump. While it is still extremely unlikely that Senate Republicans will vote for removal, Congress and the media will keep shining lights on the actions of Trump and his agents in Ukraine. If the president survives impeachment, the tales of his abuses of power and corruption may mean that his stay in the White House is only prolonged by a few months.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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